“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Thursday, July 01, 2004

If an 18 year old bball player can figure out what to do . . .

My first real interactions with persons with disabilities was back in 1978 at Wheaton college. My brother, Steve, was working in a recreation program for persons with cognitive disabilities and he invited me to visit it with him. I immediately fell in love with the people there, partly because of their honesty, partly because their openness and lack of social walls.

Anyway, one of the guys there was named Johnnie. Johnnie was about 17 and had autism. Now I had never heard about autism, had never read about autism, had no experience with autism. I found him fascinating and began to watch him whenever I went to the program. Eventually I came up with a plan to try to develop a friendship with him. I mimicked some of the physical actions he would do, like rocking. I mimicked some of the language he would say. He enjoyed brief tickling of his ribs, so over a relatively short time I taught him to come up to me and say "Tickle me." Nothing fancy, I just told him I wouldn't tickle him until he said "Tickle me." Well, because he was echolaliac, he would repeat the last phrase I would say to him, so he would always end up saying "Tickle me." The cool thing was when he began to initiate the phrase himself.

Later I came to find out that my approach wasn't too bad. It actually has some of the components which one would find that are good ways of working with a person with autism. I had no training, but with a desire to interact with him and a little observation, was able to come up with a plan and implement it.

I was in a meeting yesterday where I heard again the excuse that programs for persons with disability do not exist in churches because people don't know what to do, don't have any training. I tire of that excuse. I admit that deep down I am a special educator, however, I as an 18 year old person who had up to that point spent most of my time developing my jump shot was able to figure out something to do.

When people within churches, or church leaders say they don't know what to do, I think they have either bought the secular lie that you must have some degree or type of training to do anything for someone else, or just don't care. It is time that the church stepped back and looked at some of its practices, particularly as they relate to persons with disabilities. Many practices are based on secular principles, not the principles of scripture. Others are due to lazy theology which also indicates a lack of caring. Others are due to the general malaise of a Christian church that doesn't make persons with disability a priority, perhaps again because they are running their churches like businesses rather than like churches.

At some point faith has to kick in when one is using the financial excuse for doing nothing.

At some point personal responsibility for one's neighbor has to kick in over thinking it is someone else's responsibility.

At some point the desire to serve must overwhelm the "lack of training" which so often is the excuse of choice for doing nothing.

At some point people with disability have to be seen as people rather than the result of sin, or a black hole for service, or some other negative stereotype.

At some point people who aren't as yet directly affected by disability have to take an interest and do something rather than waiting to be effected themselves and then complaining that the services are weak or lacking.

At some point those who are affected by disability must see disability as more than just their own family member and broaden their responsibilities to others with disability.

At some point professionals and family members of persons with disability have to recognize that they have expertise which they can share beyond their own work day, or personal family experience in order to improve the lives of others with disability and change "The Church" to the kind of receptivity toward persons with disabilities exemplified by Jesus himself.

I don't buy the "I don't have any training" excuse anymore, and if you give that one to me, I will tell you to your face that it is just an excuse. Do something an be corrected by those with training who might be able to help, or, God forbid, do something and ask for guidance from God's Holy Spirit who is eminently able to guide you. But please, no more of the excuses about training.


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